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From pin-up model to lecturer: Meet the University’s new unique addition

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Published on 11 October 2021

Haili Hughes (Photo by Becky Ryan Photography)
Haili Hughes (Photo by Becky Ryan Photography)

Haili Hughes started out as a journalist who went on to become a successful 1950s-style pin-up model. Now, the established author, mentor and teacher of 15 years is bringing her own unique style to the University of Sunderland.

Haili, who has joined the University as a Senior Lecturer in PGCE English, is one of the UK’s most well-known speakers on mentoring, travelling to hundreds of schools and universities every year to deliver training.

But it’s safe to say her career has been rollercoaster ride that continues to move forward.

Haili began working life as a national newspaper reporter, going undercover at celebrity weddings, covering Berlin’s Live 8 concert, and being in the thick of the action for huge world events and royal occasions, such as Prince Charles and Camilla’s wedding.

But she also had her fair share of difficult experiences, like reporting on the London terror attacks in 2005. Ultimately, the job took its toll on Haili.

“I knew I had to leave for my own well-being,” she said.

“So, I resigned and wondered what on earth I was going to do with an English degree.

“I had a few months break and spent some time doing unpaid work experience in my old secondary school and loved it, so I applied for a PGCE.

“When I got my first teaching job in a school in a disadvantaged area where I had grown up, I fell in love with the students, the school and the job. Now I was happy, I started to work on my health and ended up losing 7.5 stone in 11 months.”

While attending a tattoo convention in Liverpool in 2010, Haili was scouted by an alternative modelling agency.

Within two years, she was modelling for more than 100 retro, vintage and alternative clothing brands and labels, and featured on the front cover of around 30 magazines.

Haili said: “It was an extremely surreal experience to walk into WHSmith and see my face staring back from the front cover.

“I remember I was on the cover of one particular magazine, which I eventually became the Deputy Editor of, and I took it to the till to pay and wondered whether the check-out assistant would notice, but she didn’t. Such is the power of editing, makeup and Photoshop!”

Haili’s career has also taken her to the dizzy heights of showbiz.

Earlier this year, she appeared on BBC Radio 1 presenter Greg James and his wife Bella Mackie’s podcast ‘Teach Me A Lesson’ as one of the UK’s most inspirational teachers.

“I have a massive passion for drag, so I wanted to teach them how to use the principles of rhetoric to persuade others by exploring how rhetoric is used in RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Haili explained.

“Both Bella and Greg were lovely, and it was such a great opportunity.”

This opened more doors for Haili, leading to lots of different opportunities for interviews on radio, including BBC Radio 5 Live, as well as writing opportunities for TES (formerly known as the Times Educational Supplement), Teach Primary Magazine and the Department for Education (DfE) blog.

But one thing is certain, Haili has never compromised her individuality in her pursuit of success.

“I have never covered my personality or changed who I am to progress,” she said.

“I don’t believe in being more corporate. I want to be my authentic self and so far, it has shone through.

“I am a bit of unusual teacher. I have shaved, pink hair, it looks like a rainbow has vomited on my outfit and have well over 200 tattoos.

“I am a maximalist in every sense of the word - leopard print is my favourite colour.”

Haili, from Warrington, Cheshire, added: “I am obsessed with fashion, tattoos and music. I love anything that is out of the ordinary, anyone who blazes their own trail, like Bjork and Kate Bush. I also love to read and spend time with my husband Mike, son Hendrix and daughter Frida.”

Haili combines her new role at the University with working as Head of Education at IRIS Connect, being an Educational Consultant and author, delivering the Early Career Framework to mentors and early career teachers, and the new National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) to teachers and leaders.

So, why did Haili choose Sunderland?

 “I delivered a keynote speech at a mentoring conference at the University earlier this year and was struck by how lovely and welcoming all the staff were and the students I engaged with were very enthusiastic,” she said.

 “It has been an interesting experience so far and I hope to grow, learn and make a difference by helping to train some incredible future teachers, who will go on to make an impact on thousands of students across the North East and beyond.”

Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society at the University of Sunderland, recently shortlisted as University of the Year, in this year’s THE – Times Higher Education – annual awards, said: “I am thrilled to welcome Haili to the School of Education. At the University of Sunderland, we recognise the crucial role School Based Mentors play in supporting trainee teachers through to achieving Qualified Teacher Status, and beyond in the early stages of their careers.

“Haili’s keynote address at our First Annual Mentoring Conference was inspirational and full of sound advice for our 600+ school partners. Mentoring is a key feature of both the Core Content Framework for Initial Teacher Training and the Early Career Framework for newly qualified teachers, so we are extremely fortunate that Haili is spearheading this work alongside colleagues from the Initial Teacher Training and International Teacher Education teams.”